It was in Southeast Michigan at age 9 that local resident Jeff Wilson began to lay the foundational know-how that would lead to the creation of his passive solar pièce de résistance at 69 S. Shannon Ave.
Little did he know, helping his father and grandfather build that high-efficiency passive solar home in Michigan would lead him to Ohio and an eventual self-made career with HGTV and other Scripps networks.
Wilson’s father always had many interests. Wilson was able to grow up around a very inspiring person, said Joan Wilson, his mother.
“My career,” Wilson said, “is based around using my voice and my personality.”
However, this was not always the case, he added.
Wilson’s degree in classical piano from the University of Wisconsin does little for him in the field of broadcast journalism, joking that it was his time spent with music that kept his construction skills honed.
“The first job I did where I made a decent amount of money was doing a Frank Sinatra rip-off voice for ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ for the Seattle Mariners,” Wilson said about his time after college in Seattle. “That was a rated commercial played for several years.”
Between internships and odd jobs in the Northwest, Wilson and his wife, Sherri, were eventually forced to move after he sustained a shoulder injury from a bike accident.
The two traveled around the country in the back of a Toyota truck until a Nashville publishing company picked him up to write country songs, he said. The couple ended up staying in Nashville for seven years, marrying and having two children.
“While I was writing songs and getting a small draw from the publishing company, I remembered that I had this skill of voiceover and singing,” Wilson said. “I put together a tape and I started shopping myself to do some commercials, and that took off strangely enough.”
Wilson landed a job with Opryland, a voiceover company, for one year.
“Lights went on in my head,” he said in regards to the amount of money he was making only working an hour and a half a month. “Maybe this is what I should be doing (for a living).”
Though construction was his primary job, Wilson said he was still seeking work in the broadcast journalism field and caught a break on Halloween night in 2001.
Wilson was to be the new host of the HGTV series Restore America, and ended up recording 52 episodes of the show.
That job led to others with the DIY Network, HGTV’s sister network, and Wilson worked with them for half a decade, making more than 200 episodes of various content with both networks.
In 2008, Wilson transitioned from broadcast into the online sector.
“At first, getting pushed to the Internet was a little demeaning, but as web video caught up to times, it wasn’t so bad,” Wilson said.
Upon moving to Athens in 2001, the Wilsons began a deep energy retrofit of their new home, similar to the work done with his father several decades ago in Superior County, Mich. A deep energy retrofit involves replacing almost every aspect of a home in order to get as close as possible to net-zero energy consumption.
The original solar home project Wilson participated in was built following the first “green” boom in the ’80s.
“Jeff was exposed to the construction of the solar house and was very aware of green energy practices since his childhood,” Joan said.
Improvements made on the Wilson home include an exterior curtain wall with 2 1/2 inches of spray-foam insulation; all new windows and doors; new heating, ventilation and air conditioning; new appliances and lighting and a 4 kilowatt solar array.
“It’s cool to know that we’re getting energy from solar panels. It has been fun to see all the changes to the house,” said Sylvie Wilson, Jeff’s daughter. “It is a lot better than when we first moved here.”
With his experience in the deep energy retrofits, Wilson pushed for green-energy themed programming during his tenure at the home-improvement networks — but to no avail.
“I got told many times that energy efficiency is not sexy enough,” he said.
It was only after the Department of Energy went to HGTV Pro asking the channel to highlight energy efficiency that the network asked for Wilson’s footage.
Nowadays, Wilson is still the host for spots for Scripps networks, 99 percent of which are online.
Today, Wilson will speak to a freshman journalism class of about 200 OU students.
“Jeff Wilson represents part of today’s job opportunities in do-it-yourself journalism,” said Bob Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. “He is a good example of how anyone can make themselves into
something out of little in this field.”